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Xi envisions better EU ties in message

By Chen Yingqun and Zhang Yunbi | China Daily | Updated: 2019-07-09 09:35

Charles Michel, Belgium's prime minister and president-elect of the European Council, speaks during a news conference following a European Union (EU) leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium, July 2, 2019. [Photo/VCG]

Choice for top jobs show consensus in advancing the continent's integration

President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory message on Sunday to Charles Michel for his election as president of the European Council.

Michel has been serving as the interim Belgian prime minister, and was chosen as the next head of the European Council on July 2.

In his message, Xi said that China-EU relations have good growth momentum, and the long-term and stable development of ties not only serves the common interests of both sides, but also is conducive to world peace and prosperity.

Xi said China supports Europe in playing a more important role in international affairs, and he attaches great importance to the development of China-EU relations.

The president said he is willing to work with Michel and promote new progress in building four major China-EU partnerships for peace, growth, reform and civilization in order to benefit the people of China and the EU and make greater contributions to the development and stability of the world.

Also on Sunday, Premier Li Keqiang sent a congratulatory message to Michel.

The selection of candidates for the European Union's top jobs shows that France and Germany are united in advancing the EU integration process, analysts have said.

EU leaders struck a deal for top jobs last week after three days of arduous negotiations, nominating German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen as president of the European Commission and Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, as head of the European Central Bank.

Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell was nominated as the EU's top diplomat.

Sven Biscop, director of Europe in the World Program at the Egmont-Royal Institute for International Relations, a think tank based in Brussels, said it was about time that the EU had a female president of the European Commission.

At a moment when the EU needs strong leadership, he said, the appointment of two strong female leaders from the two big member states, France and Germany, is "very promising".

Wang Yiwei, Jean Monnet chair professor at Renmin University of China, said that both Germany and France betting their candidates nominated for EU's top jobs indicates that the France-German alliance is still solid, which is key for the EU to continue strong leadership amid difficulties both inside and outside the bloc.

"While the United Kingdom is leaving the EU, France and Germany's cooperation is particularly important for the bloc," he said. "If candidates from big countries fill the top jobs, there will be stronger EU institutions to push forward issues including EU integration and eurozone reform."

Outgoing European Council President Donald Tusk called the appointments "a perfect gender balance".

Except for Michel, all three nominees now need to be approved by an absolute majority of the 751 members of the new European Parliament in mid-July.

"Of these candidates, von der Leyen was a surprise and most controversial one, and whether she will finally grab the position is still worth observing," Wang said. "Winning the approval of the highly fragmented European Parliament will not be that smooth, as different parties have different demands."

In the continent-wide European Parliament elections in May, the center-right European People's Party, or EPP, and center-left Socialists and Democrats, or S&D, lost their combined majority for the first time in four decades, while the liberal party group ALDE and the Greens gained ground.

"All these parties want to grab leading positions in the EU institutions, and it is important to seek a balance among them," Wang said.

Compromises made

Zhao Junjie, a researcher in European studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that France and Germany have made compromises in selecting the candidates and thus the appointments package is very highly likely to be endorsed by the assembly.

"France and Germany both understand that only unity and cooperation can revive Europe, and they are firm in pushing forward EU integration," he said. "As long as these two big powers work together to convince smaller countries to endorse the nominees, I don't think it will be too difficult."

However, as it is different from in the past, the voices of the small parties, who also represent a lot of interest groups, should not be neglected by EU leaders.

"Whoever take the top jobs, they will have to listen more to the smaller groups and smaller countries, including central and eastern European countries," he said. "The EU will also need to reform its operation mechanism and improve the efficiency of decisionmaking."

If von der Leyen, 60, is approved, she will also be the first German head of the European Commission in 52 years. Von der Leyen has been Germany's defense minister since 2013 and speaks fluent English and French.

Zhao added that von der Leyen's experiences as a defense minister and her support of a European army, something French President Emmanuel Macron badly wants to develop, might also help boost the development of Europe's own defense and security capability.

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